If you’re still mulling over the idea of self-driving cars, brace yourself for what might seem even stranger: self-driving construction vehicles already exist, and they’re already buried in workplaces.
We first wrote about Built Robotics in 2019 when the company was in the early stages of launching its autonomous excavators. In a few months, they will begin to expand their efforts to other construction equipment such as bulldozers and loaders.
But when the pandemic sent everyone home to headquarters, the company realized it had to make a difference. switch fast Every Remote business comes with challenges. But a company working on giant autonomous robots? He had to change his approach.
“We really wanted to shift the focus,” Noah Ready-Campbell, the founder of Built, told me. So they hacked into the part of the business that was already running: mining. In particular, the use of excavators for autonomous digging of trenches.
“You need slots for just about any type of construction,” Ready-Campbell says. “It’s very repetitive, but accuracy is very important. You must make sure you are at the correct depth; If you go too deep, you risk destabilizing the trench walls, and it’s not safe for people helping with plumbing or cabling.
Industrial shovels don’t build themselves – companies like Cat and John Deere removed that part of the equation years ago. Instead, Built offers an aftermarket add-on called “Exosystem” that it says can add autonomy to “any excavator.” They charge $3,000 per machine per month for the Exo system, plus hourly running costs that vary by location.
Is the giant self-propelled excavator safe for people? Red Campbell smiles when I ask. He says that after more than 13,000 hours of operation, he “still has an excellent safety record. I’m really proud of it.” He describes their “eight-level security system,” which includes things like geofencing that automatically turns off the robot when it leaves a certain area, wireless emergency stop buttons around the jobsite and a wired emergency stop on the excavator itself, and computer vision. which is constantly looking for people and obstacles around the car.
This $64 million Series C round was led by Tiger Global and backed by existing investors in NEA, Founders Fund, Fifth Wall and Built in Building Ventures. This round brought Bilt’s total funding to $112 million.
In 2019, we stopped by the Built Robotics SF headquarters to check out their equipment. This video is a bit dated now (they don’t use LIDAR anymore, for example), but still gives an idea of what these things look like in motion:
In the meantime, here’s the company’s own promo video showing what their kit looks like today: